One of the great milestones in a Bootheel baby’s life is when his or her parents hand over the keys to the riding mower and say, “OK, it’s time for you to cut the grass. Try not to lose a toe.”
I was probably 13 when the lawn was entrusted to me for the first time. Those of you from the city — and by city I mean any place with paved roads and sidewalks — have no idea what it truly means to cut the grass. How long does it really take you? An hour? Two? Because on my parents’ farm, cutting the grass took at least an afternoon.
Oh, but what an afternoon it was. I’d put on my shortest shorts and my tiniest bikini top and ride around in the sun, heedless of bug bites and melanoma.
But I was not the only one who ignored the dangers of an afternoon on the John Deere.
I had finished the expanse of grass toward the front and sides of my parents’ house. I had even mowed around the original farm-house. Not yet wanting to head in and face the tedium of family life — I was one of those teenagers — I decided to mow behind my parents’ house.
The area behind the house often went unmowed because of a steep hill. Riding down it felt fast and risky. The ride up was slow and laborious. Nobody ever went behind the house anyway, so it didn’t matter that the grass looked got to hip height.
I suppose the absence of human visitors and abundance of grass-dwelling insects convinced the banty hen that raising her chicks behind the house was a good idea. Really, it was the perfect place for a young hen with a family.
And that’s probably why she didn’t want to evacuate when I came roaring up on the mower. Instead, she was going to stand her ground and hope for the best.
I felt her before I saw her. The mower veered only slightly off course before the feathers and blood came out of the chute.
Horrified, I stopped the mower and ran to see what I had done. The hen was gone. Only four broken eggs remained. She had given her life for her babies, but it was for naught.
Sometimes that’s how it goes.